Blair pledges 'gear change' after polls drubbing

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Indy Politics

Prime Minister Tony Blair today declared it was time for a "change of gear" in public service reform after his party's battering at the polls.

He promised ministers would now move "further and faster" to improve schools and hospitals and other services.

And he said voters did not want the Government to change direction, but wanted reassurance that it was on track to deliver the promises it offered in 1997.

Mr Blair pointed out that although Labour had lost heavily in local councils, the Tories had not done well in Manchester or Birmingham - indicating voters did not see them as the next Government.

And he dismissed Liberal Democrat gains, saying the party found it difficult to keep control of authorities and made "a mess" of government.

Mr Blair told his monthly news conference in Downing Street: "Now is not the time for a change of direction, but it is the time for a change of gear."

The Premier said the Government had laid the foundations for improved schools and hospitals. Ministers would set out the next steps to go "further and faster" in the coming months.

Departments will publish five-year plans alongside Chancellor Gordon Brown's spending review this summer.

Mr Blair said there had been real progress in schools, hospitals, on reducing crime and tackling asylum.

"This progress has changed the lives of millions of people up and down the country."

He went on: "We want to take all of this further ... we have laid the foundations and it's precisely because of that success that we can go further and faster and the agenda now is to base these services around the needs of those who use them.

"Put the patient first, put the law-abiding citizen first, put the parent and child first."

Mr Blair added: "No politician can afford to be deaf to the voice of the electorate, there are clearly big challenges ahead for the country."

There was an argument ahead, said Mr Blair "and it's an argument I intend to win".

He said: "What people want to know is the programme upon which we were elected in 1997, the values that underpinned that programme, the position that we have and I have personally as Prime Minister remains the same."

They wanted to know that issues of a strong economy, public services, social justice, law and order "still drive me and get me up in the morning and want to do the job - and they are".

Under questioning, Mr Blair said he did not think the drive for deeper reform would lead to further confrontations with his party.